Il Cane Rosso Settles Down
What's left to say about Il Cane Rosso that hasn't already been said?
The name and product were Dallas institutions long before the new Deep Ellum storefront opened for business this year. Il Cane Rosso was Dallas' esoteric floating pizzeria, setting up shop at Chocolate Angel and Times Ten Cellars long before the "pop-up restaurant" concept became a trendy phenomenon.
With the restaurant's opening, the question is what happens to a freewheeling (so to speak) eatery once it becomes a fixed dining establishment. Despite the brand familiarity and the virtually intact menu, the restaurant offers ample area for exploration.
First, there is the location. Deep Ellum practically craved a restaurant like Il Cane Rosso to arouse a sense of "dining-destination" resurgence. While a few other restaurants in the area—Lemongrass, Monica Y Alla, and Local—have been in the neighborhood for some time, the new addition provides a much-needed breath of fresh air. It's a casual restaurant suitable for everything from date nights to young families to special-event get-togethers.
The surprisingly spacious dining room has a polished bohemian feel to it, which befits the restaurant's location. The furniture—rustic wood tables and benches—is simple, but a marble winding bar top adds some refinement. There's not a full bar, but in its place is a decent wine collection displayed on shelves along the wall and several beers on tap (Firemans 4, Deschutes, Shiner, Rahr Ugly Pug, New Belgium Ranger) to go along with a bottled beer selection. There is a humble-sized patio, but most of the action takes place indoors. The recognizably red Il Cane Rosso wood-fire pizza oven is prominently the focal point of the dining room. A fun painting of a pig diagram lines the back wall.
Aside from the digs and aesthetics, there is also a new executive chef. Owner Jay Jerrier mans the pizza oven, but the person in charge of the kitchen is Matthew Reddick. With most of the menu remaining the same as it was before Jerrier anchored his oven, what additions has Reddick brought to the restaurant?
Broaching the subject with our server, he directed our attention toward the new fresh pastas, house-made daily. I dined twice at the restaurant over a span of two weeks, and both times I visited, the pasta was a tagliatelle with pork ragu. Fresh pasta is delicate and easily overcooked. Unfortunately, our pasta suffered that fate and was a gummy disappointment. Even if the noodles had been perfect, the ragu was bland, and what I had hoped would be a ground or minced pork was instead tough, diced chunks of pork shoulder.
Some great things came out of the kitchen too. Rosso's salads were bountiful and refreshing, but the real stunner was the divine burrata appetizer. This cream and mozzarella blend cheese was the best of any dish sampled. Luscious burrata sits atop sautéed bitter greens and is finished off with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The three pieces of crostini served with the burrata weren't enough for the massive chunk of cheese, but our waitress happily brought out more upon request. Since she was bringing out extra bread anyway, I asked to try some bacon marmalade. I had spied the ingredient on the Delia pizza, but having already ordered so much, I wanted only to try the marmalade. I'm glad I did. The sweet and vinegary spread highlighted the smokiness of the bacon and made a felicitous impromptu pairing with the burrata.
Certainly, any review of Il Cane Rosso wouldn't be complete without talking about the pizza, but I bring up the pasta and burrata first because the difference in their quality sums up my experience at Il Cane Rosso. Over two meals, I ordered as much as possible, and even some of the pizzas were hit or miss.
Since the perfect pizza is in the eye of the beholder, I ordered a wide array and brought along company with varying preferences. What was glaringly noticeable to us all was that the less complicated the pizza, the more successful it was. After all, what makes Cane Rosso's pizza so adored is the Neapolitan-style thin and chewy crust (thanks to the imported 00 finely milled flour) and the high quality cheeses and toppings used. The trouble, however, is when they pile on too much of a good thing. Basic pies like the Margherita and Prosciutto e Rucola showcase the strengths, such as a killer tomato sauce and fresh ingredients. Pizzas with conflicting toppings such as the Napoletana (traditionally just tomato sauce, mozzarella and anchovy) defeated both the crust and taste buds. Anchovies and olives? My dining companion, an admitted salt fiend, couldn't finish more than one slice. The Capricciosa suffered similarly. Although the pizza's tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto, basil, artichoke and olives are loyal to the traditional version, the heavy hand of artichoke and olives masked all other components of the dish. With these two pizzas, Il Cane Rosso should have taken the Coco Chanel route.
One exception to the less is better tenet, however, is dessert. After having tried the apple slice and caramel-drizzled Bella pizza, I lamented not ordering the sinfully chocolate- and marshmallow-crammed S'Mores calzone (a mistake I didn't repeat my second visit.) The Bella screamed of needing more, whether it was additional caramel or a heaping of powdered sugar.
As with any newly opened restaurant, there are some growing pains at Il Cane Rosso. A beer and pizza pairing is rumored to be in the works but has no set start date. Sandwiches listed on the menu aren't yet available. Between both of my visits (a leisurely Sunday brunch and a hopping Friday evening), it was evident that some servers are in desperate need of further training. When business swelled on the Friday evening, things became scatterbrained quickly. At their best, service is tranquil and genial. As soon as things hit the fan, however, service was a tad ugly. I watched as customer requests were ignored, a sausage and pepper sandwich came out of the kitchen ice cold and food runners scrambled while a manager socialized.
Parking is an issue as well. There is a free lot across the street from the restaurant, but it's shared with other businesses, including Twisted Root. It fills quickly, and the only other options are a $5 lot or street meters. For a casual place that will be seeing as much business as Il Cane Rosso, this could become a nuisance.
On one hand, the restaurant opened in February, and two months plus should be a reasonable amount of time to expect many of the kinks to be adjusted. On the other, the fans gleefully frequenting Il Cane Rosso probably are a bit more forgiving. For those who have long loved (or at least been curious about) these pizzas, it's enough for them that Jerrier's pies finally have a place they can call home.
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